Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Trio for Tree Huggers

Tree Hugger? A compliment as far as I’m concerned. Some of my best friends are trees. Always been that way, as far as I can remember. So when new books about trees come into the store, I pay attention. Here are three that seem to me to grow taller and straighter than average:

The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet by Jim Robbins.
This is the story of a man who is going around the world taking cuttings of “champion” trees--especially large, strong, tall, old, resilient specimens—in order to plant protected groves of these champion trees. The idea is that someday humanity might need “seed stock” to replant our forests, and the best stock would come from the best trees. A straightforward enough idea. Each chapter of the book is about a different species of tree, and as the story of finding the “champion” is told, we learn some about the trees.

But parts of this book are, marvelously, not so straightforward. The man who has undertaken this quest to clone champion trees is not a scientist, but rather a “redneck Northern Michigan farmer” named David Milarch. Formerly a hard drinker, Milrach’s liver pretty much shut down about twenty years ago, and he almost died. On regaining consciousness, he announced that beings “on the other side” had sent him back to earth with a mission—to create a kind of Noah’s ark of tree genetics. This book is his story as well as the story of the trees and his tree panting project.

A little bit out there, perhaps? Oh yes, but Milrach’s quest, his persistence (and success), and the amazing trees themselves make for quite a story.

American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow.
The impact of our trees and forests on the history of our country--from economics to literature to our whole concept of ourselves as a nation. What we have done to our forests, and what that has done to and for us. A fascinating new lens through which the author looks afresh at American history. Who do you think was the first U.S. president to take action to preserve some of our forests? Why Abraham Lincoln, of course, with the “Yosemite and Big Tree Grant” of 1864.

Seeing Trees: Discover the Ordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, by Nancy Ross Hugo.
The photographs here by Robert Llewellyn are just extraordinary. Many of them look like paintings. Do yourself a favor and look through this book next time you are in the bookshop. And if you don’t learn a whole lot you didn’t already know about trees from the text, you are a much more accomplished tree hugger than I am.

Tom Campbell

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